Monthly Archives: December 2012

Ho bloody ho

Christmas. A time of peace and goodwill to all men. Or, in our house, a time of ninety eight decibels sustained over seven hours and an almost constant request to build, set up, draw,  read instructions, and assist in unwrapping.

By lunchtime I had flown to Saturn in a rocket, built half a Lego lorry, constructed a robber’s getaway vehicle, made a half arsed attempt to demonstrate a Diablo, been iPad fishing, sung a few nursery rhymes, brummed a red bus around the kitchen floor on all fours and glanced repeatedly at my watch to see if it would be acceptable to have a strong Jack and coke… or two. I was fucking exhausted.

I hope you all had a great Christmas, managed to avoid stepping on a piece of Lego, got through the entire Christmas dinner without a request for a poo / more presents / assistance with a rather complex Meccano helicopter and made it to the far-away finishing line of kids’ bedtimes without tantrums, tears or too much indigestion. We didn’t. But hey, there’s always next year.    

Didn’t get Womb with a View, the debut book from Mothering Frights writer Jodie Newman, in your Christmas stocking? Outrageous. But never mind, treat yourself to a copy at www.jodienewman.co.uk. Don’t worry, there is no Christmas sale on, so there will be no need to start queueing at 1am, and you won’t get poked in the ribs by someone’s elbow. Well, probably not.


TechnoBoy

I feel old. Not just because of the four and a half years of sleep deprivation, although I will not deny that has added a whole new load of wrinkles – I look in the mirror these days and staring back at me is a heavily creased duvet cover with panda eyes and smudged eyeliner. Nor solely due to the worry gene that has been activated since the birth of E, which provides an almost incessant low-level of angst, from ‘Will he be warm enough in that top?’ to ‘Is that just a few random spots or should I be dialling 999?’. No. I feel old primarily because I can feel myself drifting solely and inexorably away from knowing what the latest technology is and how to bloody use it.

I thought I was pretty on top of things, with my iPhone and my iPad. Oh, and my iPod. And iTouch. Or, as they could be collectively described, iStuff. But when you see your child pick up said gadget, and with no instruction or pointers, swipe and tap their way to a Peppa Pig game without so much as one false finger twitch, you know your relationship with tech is on the slide. Once, we were intimate, tech and me, intuitively knowing what each other needed. Now, it seems an uncomfortable silence has developed between us, usually when I have jabbed the wrong app for the fourth time in a row, or over-swiped the phone screen so that I end up on that fucking search iPhone page. Again.

E now routinely calls the iPad ‘my iPad’. Where once I was owner and sole operator of aforementioned gadgets, it seems my function has been relegated to that of gadget carrier, gadget finder, and warner of low battery status. I feel old and lacking control of my gadgets, and I blame Apple. If they had not made their products so bloody intuitive to navigate, we would still be relying on my PC, and I could happily be involved in E’s technology interactions, seeing as his hand eye coordination was not quite up to the job and often sent the cursor careering wilding around the screen as he tried to click on a button. But now, I am not required. E will happy sit and play, and I am only summoned when he reaches a particularly tricky manoeuvre on Sonic or a message comes up asking if he would like to purchase the next six exciting levels for only three of mummy’s shiny hard earned pounds.

And it is when I hear myself saying things like ‘he doesn’t know how lucky he is to have things like this to play with’ that I realise that I am nearer to a free bus due to being an OAP than getting one by being under 15. And when I catch myself muttering under my breath as I wipe the iPad screen for the fifteenth time that day to remove a choice selection of greasy fingerprints and sneeze droplets.  I would not be at all surprised if scientists found a new strain of bacteria making itself quite comfortable on there, being fed a nutritionally diverse menu of errant toast crumbs and mucus.

The final nail in the glass-screened, touch sensitive coffin of me and technology came one afternoon, as E and I were looking for a You Tube video to explain the solar system. E had asked me about the planets, and about five seconds into an explanation, I realised that I really didn’t have much of a sodding clue. After all, it has been a while since I learnt it at school. In fact, did I ever learn it at school? I was the first year to eschew the O Level, and test out the GCSE, which seemed in part to forgo learning about anything useful like the history of our country and explaining the world around us. Instead, for example, I seem to remember spending an inordinately long time in history doing a comparative study of arrow slits. Which would have been fabulously useful if I was going to become either a castle-builder, an arrow slit restorer or even a vertical letter-box designer. But in the event, my career took a slightly less slitty path and involved no arrows whatsoever.

E obviously saw the pain on my face as I tried to recall all the planets, and said: “Shall I get the iPad, mummy?” Which is basically child-speak for: ‘Call yourself a parent? You haven’t got a bloody clue, have you mummy? Let’s call in the experts.’

So there we are, huddled around the font of all knowledge and time wasting: the internet. I find an appropriate video on You Tube to teach us both a thing or two about what is going on far above our heads and press play. E reaches out and placing his thumb and finger on the screen, widens them to make the video full-screen. How the hell did he know how to do that? I didn’t know you could do that… so who taught him? Even more depressing, perhaps he didn’t need to be taught…he just knew. There was nothing left to do: I crawled off into a darkened room to sob quietly to myself and mourn my technoincompetence.

However, there is a faint light at the end of my tunnel of technology desperation. I cling onto the memory of when E had just familiarised himself with my iStuff, around the age of two. We went to a friend’s house and he wanted to change the channel on the television – so he walked up to it and swiped the screen with his fingertips. Ha! Got you there, technoboy. Look, this is old technology, involving a small controller that often gets lost in the sofa cushions and runs out of batteries at the most inopportune moments. You might want intuitive, motion-controlled TV, but look what we have instead! And whilst our houses are full of slightly crappy, user-unfriendly items, no four year old will ever get the best of me. Because for as long as I am the only one of the two of us who knows how to change the station on the radio, or work the microwave, or series-record Scooby Doo, I am not too old and irrelevant: I am in charge. In fact, I might look in the loft for dad’s old Betamax with buttons the size of brake pedals and an eject that could jettison a small rocket into space. Ha. That’ll bloody teach him.

Fed up of technology? Go low-tech with Womb with a View, the new book from Mothering Frights writer Jodie Newman. Buy it from www.jodienewman.co.uk, where you can also read extracts. Try before you buy, if you like. Which would be a great scheme for people considering having kids, come to think about it.


Back to School

Plastic chairs of diminutive proportions. Displays of wilting, random bits of the forest entitled ‘Our nature walk’. A group of parents all looking slightly like they would much, much rather be somewhere else. Ah, the prospective school visit, it is a true joy.

Whilst parents of small children are still reeling from the fact that three days or two millennia ago, depending on your mood, you were holding your child in a small white blanket in the hospital bed, it is now time for them to go to primary school. And Christ on a bike (or a Micro scooter, given the three score of them that were lined up outside one school), what a Pandora’s box of unmitigated horror it is.

I start the process with some research online, looking at distance, Ofsted, and the statements on the schools’ websites. Which is a bit like listening to potential Miss Worlds. They all say they love animals and work with charities, but you have the sneaking suspicion that at least three of them eat kitten hearts for breakfast and steal pocket money from children wearing callipers. 

I phoned one of the local schools to book an appointment and thought the person who answered was drunk. Now, I am as happy as the next person for the receptionist to feel relaxed and at home in her work, but even I thought this was taking it a little far. However, it turned out to be one of the kids.  I wasn’t sure if this was a punishment or reward, or a simple cost-cutting exercise, but I asked her a series of very difficult questions just in case she had done something naughty and was now paying the price for drawing a willy on the toilet wall. 

At our first tour, I took it all very seriously, asking questions and looking hard at the kids to see if I could glean how their intellectual and emotional welfare was being tended to. But the kids just stared back and freaked me out a bit, so I quickly began summing up the school by a slightly less rigorous assessment: ‘Ooh, I like those chairs’ and ‘well, they’ve pinned up those pictures nice and straight’. I became ridiculously impressed by things like laptops that were not so old that they had to be lifted by two fully grown men, and tables that could fit together into a nice octagon. The more I looked, the less I knew. There was talk of interleaving – or intertwining or inter-bloody-something -years, which sounded suspiciously like an idea dreamt up to alleviate overcrowding, but no one was going to admit that.

One headmaster went to great pains to tell us how overcrowded the school was, how there were not enough chairs to go round and how his beleaguered school was going to hell in a hand cart marked ‘The State of Education’. I was waiting for him to break down in front of us, sobbing and wailing and scratching feverishly at his leather elbow patches, but he managed to hold it together long enough to make an unconvincing sales pitch about the mobile classroom perched on a bit of grass as being a great educational environment in a fleeting moment of rare positivity.

We were told by one head not, under any circumstances, to listen to what the mothers on the gate say, because she doesn’t. Well indeed, why the hell would you listen to your customers? What kind of new-fangled folly is that, for chrissakes? How on earth would the people that actually use your service have anything enlightening to say about it? A little piece of my soul broke off on hearing her utter those words, and was carried away by the fairy of shit headmistresses to be added to the other little pieces of parents’ souls which fragmented when they heard her say that once a child is put in the lower or upper ability class, they would be not reviewed for an entire year. I was actually quite surprised that they had phones and computers, and were not using abacuses and writing slates, given the general eighteenth century approach to education they seemed to have adopted.

The more schools we looked round, the more I got School Blindness – there I was, poking my head into yet another classroom filled with kids, looking suspiciously like the last one we had just visited, wondering if this was of any help whatsoever. In fact, I actually think they were showing us the same bloody classroom, but using a different door.

‘Which classes shall we show the parents today, Head?’

‘Oh Christ. Well not Year 5. We’re on our third supply teacher and the last one isn’t out of hospital yet.’

‘Year 3?’

‘Good God, no. Are you mad? They’re doing painting this morning, we don’t want to get stung with another load of dry cleaning bills. Tell you what, show them Year 6 four times. You know, the old four-door trick. Get the kids to swap seats, they’ll never know.’

Round and round we went, meeting other parents who we had met that morning at a different school. At least I think it was a different school. To be fair, there is not a lot of distinguishing features to most of them. Magnolia walls? Check. Kids drawings in the corridor? Check. An enormous mound of coats and bags, sprinkled with single gloves and trampled scarves, threatening to topple at any moment and under which there was probably a row of pegs? Check.

I found it more than a tad bizarre and it started to seem a little like a charade. After all, every school in our area is over subscribed, so as the Heads took pains to do a good sell-in job on their school (well, most of them) for over an hour, it struck me that actually, it was pointless. We don’t have a choice. We simply have an illusion of choice. E will go to the school that the authority chooses for him, which will be the closest, or the emptiest, or whatever else the criteria is when they wake up that day. So in fact, the Heads could have just saved everyone a whole load of time by saying: ‘Listen. Our school is bloody great. But if you live more than half a mile away, you are basically fucked. So by all means come and stroke our laminate flooring and sniff our What I Want to Be display, but know that this will be the last time you will ever get to be this close.’

During the school tours, I began to have repeated out-of-body experiences – where my body was there, looking round with all the other parents (an anxiety of parents, perhaps?), but my mind was in the pub with a bottle of wine going ‘la la la la la la’ repeatedly and pretending that we weren’t  about to make a monumental decision that may or may not be roundly ignored about the future of my son’s primary education. I began to ponder the alternatives… and came up with only one. Home schooling. Christ, pass me that fucking application form right now…

Not got your copy of Womb with a View yet, the new book from the Mothering Frights writer? Well head on over to www.jodienewman.co.uk right now, or you’ll be in detention.


The magic of Christmas

I am awoken by a hand on my cheek, swiftly followed by a persistent squeeze of my nose.   Ah, the joy of the wakeup call of the four year old: there is nothing else quite like it. And there is a reason for that. Because it is uniquely and teeth grindingly annoying.

Reluctantly I squint at the clock, knowing I am not going to like what I see. The fuzziness of my brain and the weight of my eyelids are telling me in no uncertain terms that this is not a civilised time of the day to be awake. 5.14. Oh, the sodding joy. I contemplate for a moment whether I should try and get E back into his bed for an hour, like I do every time he comes in at this time. This thought process, I believe, comes from a few synapses in my brain that still survive from the time I was a new parent, the time when you had decided those hard and fast rules about behaviour and acceptable actions – such as no child of mine will ever sleep in our bed. But this thought about refusing E entry gets progressively weaker each time I think it, those synapses slowly shrivelling into brain dust as I follow the thought with a simple, defeated action: the lifting of the duvet.

I sigh as he wriggles in, and waste a few atoms of oxygen and energy by asking him to lay still and not talk. It might just be possible, I muse groggily, to close my eyes and go right back to sleep at any mom… a nose in my ear interrupts my patently ridiculous fantasy about further slumber. “Look, mummy, my nose fits in your ear,” he informs me gleefully. Oh good. That is just the sort of game I wish to play in what childless people refer to as the middle of the night.

“Go. To. Sleep.”

There is stillness in the bedroom. I unclench my teeth and pull the duvet up under my chin, moments before it is ripped away and I am left, duvet-less from the waist up and already feeling the cold.

“Stop it, please, or you will have to get out,” I hiss as I reinstate the duvet.

“I don’t want the duvet,” he moans.

“Listen…” I start to speak in order to point out the fact that there is a perfectly good bed in his room that would be delighted to accommodate him in the bloody nude with all the windows open if he so wishes, but I fear keeping my mouth open may well let forth a torrent of unstoppable swearing, or sobbing, so I stop. I am so tired. There have been far too many five ‘o’ clock starts in this household – we’re like honorary bloody milkman but with less whistling. I am not even going to look at the clock again, it’s too depressing. I look at the clock. 5.18am. Fuck, that’s depressing.

I feel tugging at the duvet so I hold on to it tight to avoid another exposure to the elements, my knuckles whitening under the strain. I start to feel like I am afraid that the bed will tip up and throw me out, which actually does not seem such a bad idea all things considered.

Icy cold feet are placed on my thighs. I grit my teeth. Just ignore them, I instruct myself. They slide up to my hips. Don’t say anything, I plead to the bit in my head that is already instructing my lungs to fill with air in anticipation. Then the feet are under my pyjama top and on my waist.

“Stop it right now. Or you will be out of the bed.” I say sternly into the darkness.

Two cold feet reluctantly disappear, to be replaced by tapping fingers. That is it.

I pick him up and put him on the carpet, causing a tsunami of wailing. But he is face down, so the carpet takes the brunt of it and I turn over and shut my eyes. There is about as much chance of me now falling asleep as there is of spontaneously apologising, but I refuse to get up and start my day at twenty past bloody five.

The wailing continues, in that ‘I am not in the least bit upset now but I need to make the point that I am, all things considered, rather miffed’ kind of way that only small children can really carry off with any aplomb. I am happy to regain some bed space and be lulled by my son’s rhythmic, monotone cries. At some point, they stop and I hear him stand up.

“Sooooorrry, muuuummmy.”

Well blow me down with Spiderman pyjamas. Has inhaling all that carpet dust sent him doolally?

Under strict guidelines, I let him back into bed and he lies there, still and quiet. I barely dare breathe in case I break the spell.

I start to drift off, the warm duvet cocooning my descent into sleep, slowly… I am suddenly aware of E’s face right next to mine. Then his nose is touching my cheek, followed my his forehead against my temple. He applies a little pressure so I subtly move my head to get some space. I do not want to talk or acknowledge him, as this would scatter the last vestiges of sleep that are floating round my head. But at the point at which my neck is almost breaking from the odd angle I am forced to adopt, I decide enough is enough.

“RIGHT. THAT IS IT. I AM CALLING SANTA.” I may have made myself easier to hear at this point. Easy enough that next door may have also heard. But I was not shouting. God no. I am not a mother who shouts, I am far too together to be riled by a four year old.

There is a second of silence as the enormity of the threat is processed by E.

“No, mummy!” he wails in panic.

“WHERE IS MY PHONE?” I sit up.

“I won’t do it again,” he says, lying down and clamping his eyes shut.

I lie back down. And that, right there, is the magic of Christmas.

 

Stuck for Christmas presents? Well head on over to www.jodienewman.co.uk and pick yourself up a cheeky copy or two of Womb with a View, the debut book from the Mothering Frights writer. Easy to wrap, not expensive to post and after reading, is a great way of shoring up a wobbly coffee table. What’s not to like?